Happy International Women’s Day! In the final of our countdown of great women writers, today we salute Vera Brittain in whose honour we are launching a brand new Visiting Fellowship…
7. Vera Brittain (1893-1970)
‘Meek wifehood is no part of my profession;
I am your friend, but never your possession.’
Married Love from Poems of the War and After, 1934
Vera Brittain was a writer and pacifist. Her best-selling memoir Testament of Youth recounted her experiences during the First World War and their role in the development of her pacifism. The book has recently been made into a moving film starring Kit Harington and Alicia Vikander. Testament of Youth gives a heart-rending account of Brittain’s time as a nurse tending wounded soldiers in England, Malta and France and of the loss of the young men she grew up with, including her fiancé Roland and her brother Edward.
‘It was very hard to believe that not far away, men were being slain ruthlessly… The destruction of men, as though beasts, whether they be English, French, German or anything else, seems a crime to the whole march of civilisation.’
Testament of Youth, 1933
Testament of Youth has also been hailed as a feminist classic as it describes
Brittain’s frustrations as an intellectual woman striving to achieve her ambitions in a world where women were expected to be solely wives and homemakers.
Brittain also worked as a journalist and biographer, wrote poetry and published her diaries and letters. She continued her pacifist campaigning throughout the Second World War (for which she received much abuse within England, and was also entered in the Gestapo’s ‘Black Book’ which listed 2,820 people to be arrested at once if Britain was successfully invaded), and publically supported campaigns such as the Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament and the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
Chawton House Library is today officially launching its new Visiting Fellowships, which include the new Vera Brittain Fellowship supported by the Society of Women Writers and Journalists of which Brittain was an Honorary Life President. This has been kindly supported by the now Honorary Life President, Vera Brittain’s daughter, Shirley Williams, the Right Honourable Baroness Williams of Crosby. Find out more.